Photos: For Black History month, Historical Society features J. T. Johnathan’s unusual photos of Bay Shore

COURTESY J. T. JOHNATHAN FAMILY | One of the old scenes of Bay Shore on display at the Historical Society in Riverhead.

Suffolk County Historical Society in Riverhead opened an exhibit of unusual family photographs last night in honor of Black History month.

The exhibit features the work of photographer James T. Johnathan (1887-1966), a pioneering African-American entrepreneur who documented the diverse hamlet of Bay Shore for more than a half a century.

James T. Johnathan

His work was brought to light by Susan Barbash in a film she produced, ‘The Bay  Shore Story … a Small Piece of the World,” in 2009. She said the movie was intended to capture the community, which she said was segregated although diverse.

Mr. Johnathan was a self-taught photographer and a Renaissance man. He was a barber, owner of a mom-and-pop restaurant, a musician and he led his family’s musical group called “Johnathan and His Rhythm Stars.”

James T. Johnathan

His six children performed at the 1939 World Fair and the Apollo Theater.

He moved to Bay Shore in 1916 from Harlem with his wife Lucy and lived there until his death in 1966. He was Bay Shore’s official photographer for the school district, and photographed weddings, portraits and civic events.

His grandson Kent Johnathan of Riverside, a high school teacher in Bay Shore, said he was thrilled with the exhibit. “I never thought it would come to here- from Bay Shore to Hempstead and now to Riverhead.’

The photographs on display are a sampling from 120 images in the Johnathan’s family’s private collection. They are on display at SCHS until February 29.

[nggallery id=288 template=galleryview]